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Iron Horse Blog

Joy Sterling
 
April 18, 2016 | Joy Sterling

Latest, Greatest and Most Celebrated

The vineyards look gorgeous.  It is raining pink petals at my house from wild climbing roses some 30 feet high, giving new meaning to April showers.  
 
 
The poppies around the Tasting Room hold special meaning. I remember casting wild flower seeds on walks with my father that first spring after my parents purchased Iron Horse in 1976.
 
There is no doubt in my mind that the beauty of the estate is very much part of our terroir.  In fact, better than words or pictures, the wines capture it best.  
 
 
I am very proud that our 2013 crop of Pinots received 94 to 90 point reviews in Wine Enthusiast:
 
94 Points - 2013 Deer Gate
94 Points - 2013 Winery Block
93 Points - 2013 Home Block
93 Points - 2013 Thomas Road
92 Points - 2013 Estate Pinot Noir
90 Points - 2013 “Q”
 
Thinking ever so slightly ahead, I hope you are properly provisioned for April 22, which promises to be the most celebrated day on the planet.  It is Earth Day, the first night of Passover, a full moon AND a Friday. The day miraculously spans an amazing range of subjects we care about deeply.
 
Earth Day is an international holiday with billions of participants, and one of my favorite celebrations. For newbies to green Iron Horse festivities, see coverage of past celebrations here.
 
Earth Day 2016 will be one to remember on a global scale. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have agreed to sign the Paris Climate Accord at an official ceremony at the United Nations in New York on April 22.

 
How fitting to toast with our vintage Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blancs. The special edition Sparkling was created in partnership with National Geographic to help establish marine protected areas and support sustainable fishing. $4 per bottle sold goes to National Geographic’s Ocean Initiative.
 
Turning to Passover, we acknowledge the central role wine plays throughout the evening where it is required four times during the Seder. For those of you who still think Manischewitz is de rigeur, my family traditionally serves Pinot Noir. The blessing over the “fruit of the vine” is one  we all know by heart.  There’s a chalice for the prophet Elijah, plus the 10 teaspoons of wine we each spill out of our glasses into a saucer as a sacrifice to ward off the 10 biblical plagues that God inflicted on Egypt to secure the release of the Israelites from slavery as explained in the Book of Exodus.
 
 
I think we can all agree these are calamities ... though we did pray for flooding during the harshest points of the California drought :
 
The Nile turning to blood
Infestation of frogs
Lice
Flies
Death of livestock
Boils
Thunder & hail
Locusts
Darkness
Smiting of the first born
 
Pharaoh capitulated after the tenth plague, and then changed his mind, portrayed to the utmost of your imagination in Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston as Moses in one of the greatest moments in movie history.
 
This is my third year hosting Passover at my house. I will borrow my father’s annotated Haggadah, a silver chalice from my grandmother that we fill with wine for Elijah, and a blue velvet matzo cover embroidered by my great grandmother when she was eight years old, shortly after sailing to America from Odessa.
 
In a break with tradition, I am planning on serving Russian Cuvee. Bubbles will pair beautifully with classic Passover dishes like smoked salmon, matzo ball soup, potato latkes with crème fraiche and apple sauce, fried artichokes … even brisket. After all, Passover is a celebration – a celebration of freedom against oppression. And I feel Elijah will enjoy bubbly for a change.
 
The night will not conclude before celebrating the full moon – the pink moon, to be exact. Nothing befits a full moon like bubbles. And a “pink moon” naturally calls for a gorgeous pale rosé like our Wedding Cuvée. This is the most romantic of our Sparklings, the one we are best known for. I describe it as dangerously easy to drink.
 

 

I am a major advocate of toasting the full moon. It unites us.
 
So, to recap, we will be raising a glass for Earth Day, at least four for Passover, culminating with a late night toast to the full moon.

With so much to celebrate, I just hope none of us will have to wake up too early on the 23rd.

 

 

 

Joy Sterling
 
March 16, 2016 | Joy Sterling

A New Vintage of Joy! To Welcome Spring

The allure of buried treasure beguiles us as children. We trudge through our backyards guided by maps which point us to the spot marked X. Ah! The excitement of discovering something hidden.
 
This is an experience which eludes most of us as adults. That was, until our cellar master discovered a cache of long forgotten, unlabeled magnums of Sparkling Wine from various vintages going back 10-15 years.  A treasure trove of beautifully aged bubbly - 30 cases of this, 40 cases of that, from seven vintages and 13 different base wines. The first vintage of Joy! was a 1991, which we released in spring of 2007.
 
Today, the Joy! project is in full bloom. The new release, vintage 2003, makes its debut Friday, March 18th (details about Release Day Joy! at the vineyard here). Shop it here.
 
 
To sip this wine is to experience the magic of 12 years aging in contact with the yeast before disgorging. As winemaker David Munksgard explains, it takes a full 12 years for the wine’s alcohol and acid to have the time to dissolve the goodness inside the yeast’s mitochondria (break out those biology textbooks!). Once released, those "goodies" (amino acids, proteins, and fatty acids) achieve two things, both hallmarks of truly beautiful bubbles. They contribute to the umami experience and the fatty acids coat the bubbles which making the perfect, pin point, tiny orbs that accumulate at the surface of the glass creating a “foam cap” or crown. The result is an especially creamy texture and nutty, brioche aromas.
 
I wish I could say that we planned Joy!, but I do feel it is to our credit that we hold onto these magnums for so long.  As everyone in business knows, the most expensive thing you can do is hold onto inventory.
 
There is no doubt in my mind that longer aging is the key to creating the greatest California Sparklings, second only to vineyard site. The longer the time en tirage, the smaller the bubbles, leading to richer, creamier and more elegant wine. Top quality bubbly is so much about texture, which can only come from extended time on the lees. When you are drinking a tete de cuvee, like Joy!, you should not even have to swallow. It should just effervesce away in your mouth. (See our blog post on The Science behind the Magic, October 2015).
 
David says that he doesn’t know of any other California producers nor many French houses making this kind of time investment. (Maybe we should change the name of the wine to Patience?) That said, we urge you to be completely spontaneous in drinking Joy! We’ve already held onto to it long enough and David is always quick to remind us that even the most special wines are not made to be revered, but shared and enjoyed.
 
 
Here are his tasting notes:
 
"By nose, yeast and toasted hazelnut lead the way to grapefruit and baked apple scents with a hint of ginger. By mouth, your first impression is more sensual than taste. Full, rich and yet youthful and bright all at once. The most perfect lemon curd; creamy richness with freshness and bright finish. It is lush and refined like a silky ribbon."
 
How can you resist?

 
It has been four long, thirsty years since we have had any Joy! to share. That was the 1999 vintage, which won a near perfect 98 point score in Wine Enthusiast, 93 Points from Robert Parker and 93 points from Wine & Spirits.
 
The reviews were spectacular:
“Graceful and refined, with crisp apple and yeasty lemon aromas that lead to complex flavors of toasted almond, ginger and spicy mineral. Finishes with pinpoint crispness.”
“Drink now!”
“Light gold in the glass with aromas of wet stones, lemon, and roasted nuts, this wine tastes of bright apple, lemon, buttered toast, long finish. Wonderful acidity. One of the finest made in California”
“A deft blend of richness and delicacy, offering mature aromas of spiced apple, almond and cinnamon, with opulent flavors of toasty crème brûlée, laced with notes of mineral and ginger. Great length.”
 
We were greatly honored when it was served to the Queen of England at a State Dinner at the Ambassador's residence in London, Winfield House, in 2011.
 
Fortunately, the four year “drought” has been worth the wait! The current release is 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. The disgorging date (day/month/year) is on the back of each bottle.

 


Spring forth and enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Joy Sterling
 
March 8, 2016 | Joy Sterling

Pioneers, Progress and Parity - An International Women’s Day Toast

Never missing a reason to celebrate, today I raise a glass to International Women’s Day. #IWD2016. The theme this year is parity: 50-50 by 2030, which inspired internet sleuthing to ascertain how the wine world (and agriculture generally) is fairing vis a vis parity.
 
we've come a long way baby!
 
Most visible are the women whose names are on the bottle: Gina Gallo, Delia Viader, Merry Edwards, Kathleen Heitz Myers, Marimar Torres (Marimar Estate), Katherine Hall, Beth Nichols (Far Niente), Beth Novak Milliken (Spottswood), yours truly (Iron Horse), Cristina Mariani-May (Castello Banfi), and most famous of all, Barbe-Nicole Clicquot (biography of the Veuve Clicquot is a must read).
 
A recent Women Winemakers of California study called “How Many Women” shows that 29% of the lead winemakers in Napa are women, but statewide, the average is just 9.8%. There’s clearly room for growth.
 
Barrie Sterling in the vineyards - Vintage 2014
 
We can point to some key pioneers who may help the global community reach a glorious tipping point of parity. For example, the most powerful wine buyer on the planet is a woman. Annette Alvarez-Peters is responsible for more than $1 billion worth in wine sales every year in over 300 Costco stores across the country. Costco is the sixth largest retailer in the US and number seven in the world.
 
We are fabulously wealthy in women wine writers and influencers - Esther Mobley of San Francisco Chronicle, Virginie Boone of Wine Enthusiast, Peg Melnick and Michelle Anna Jordan of The Press Democrat, radio personality Ziggy Eschliman, TV star Leslie Sbrocco, Karen MacNeil author of the Wine Bible, Sarah Schneider of Sunset Magazine, Adrienne Shubin, The Rich Life (On a Budget) blogger, Jo Diaz and Twitter stars Amy Lieberfarb, #SonomaChat, Nannette Eaton, @Wine Harlots and our very own social media maven Shana Ray Bull ... to name just a few locally based here in Northern California.
 
The growing stature of women in wine is a no brainer for many reasons. Selling wine is a natural fit as it is fundamentally a relationship business. There is a long and marvelous history of women at the forefront, like the aforementioned Veuve Clicquot. An additional advantage is that women naturally are better tasters because we are generally endowed with more taste buds then men. Can’t argue with the science. (http://www.nataliemaclean.com/blog/women-wine-tasting/)
 
Pinot Harvest
 
One area where we are weak is at the upper echelon of the major wine and spirits distribution companies. As big as they are, they are also family businesses, which puts an interesting slant on the question of why there isn’t a woman of my generation running any one of them. Where are the daughters and the granddaughters? I guess they don’t want to, which perhaps says something about the distribution end of the business.
 
Vineyard and cellar work are physically demanding, but no harder than being a firefighter. In the vineyards, 25% of the workers are women. My parents recall that many of the harvest crews they hired in the ‘70s included women, often young mothers who brought their little children to work. In fact, my mother set up an ad-hoc daycare, hiring our foreman’s teenage daughter to watch over the children and read to them in English.
 
Today’s vineyard workers are a different generation. Rightly so, the pay scale is rising and will continue to rise to ensure we have qualified, highly trained teams to bring our products literally to fruition. The demanding nature of this work in no way discriminates against women, especially in the judgement and professionalism required to bring in the best grapes.
 
My personal experience is atypical in that I am without doubt the luckiest person walking. Just read my bio. I have had every conceivable advantage. As I always say, the first smartest thing I ever did was pick my parents. But I feel very strongly that the wine and food world along with agriculture in general ARE and SHOULD BE very attractive for women.
 
 
My advice to young women entering the wine world is to start in a winery tasting room, wine retail store, or a country club, golf club or yacht club. Constantly put yourself in a position to be tasting new, exciting and diverse wines. Join or create a tasting group. I strongly support the Sommelier Guild primarily because of  their commitment to mentorship.
 
For additional perspective, we reflected on this day with three women I admire: Karen Ross, California State Secretary of Agriculture, Helene Dillard, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis, Anita Cook Motard, who (full disclosure) heads Strategic Account Sales for our Texas distributor, Glazer’s Wholesale Co and  serves on the advisory board for Women of the Vine, each recently interviewed by our ace blogger Tarin Teno. These women are leaders who have accomplished great success. Their end goals are diverse, but the common theme in each interview is the importance of a network.
 
Three Cheers for our Three Interviewees!
 
*****
Karen Ross, California State Secretary of Agriculture
 
Tell us a bit about your professional path to this point: I grew up on a farm in Nebraska and spent my early years fighting my place in agribusiness. But as an adult, each job I took brought me back closer to that world (Note: prior to Secretary Ross’ appointment to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, she was chief of staff for US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and also served as President of the California Association of Winegrape Growers from 1996-2009). It all came full circle when I was able to buy out my dad’s share of our farm. There’s a connectivity to nature that you can’t deny, it reflects the seasons of our lives and the lessons of hard work.
 
Who is your role model?: My dad was the most influential force in my life. He was all about positive thinking and instilled the belief that you can achieve anything you want.  He was raised by a strong female, my grandmother, who ran the business on the farm in his childhood years.
 
Give us a snapshot of where we are in the parity struggle from where you sit: Today, the vast majority of people working on agricultural matters in Sacramento are women. I surmise that this over 50% skew has to do with women deftly grasping the issues and having strong communication skills. But while there has been a large transformation in the group working as advocates in the capital, the legislative body has changed more slowly. The elected bodies are still not 50-50 despite the fact that Governor Brown’s governing body is quite diverse.
 
What is your proudest accomplishment to date?: The creation of the California Sustainable Wine Growing Program. We brought the wine community together and set the tone for other farming communities like the almond growers.  I’m also proud to have been part of children's wellness initiatives, particularly the Let’s Move partnership with the First Lady.
 
What woman (in any field, in history or thriving today) do you most admire?: It would be really easy for me to say Mother Theresa because of the compassion with which she lived.. I believe in a principle which drove her - if we don’t take care of the weakest link in our chain, we will have nothing.
 
What advice do you have for young women who are interested in food, wine and agriculture?: I get to spend a lot of time with young people n high school and college across the state. I see so many women getting involved, there is definitely a renaissance of interest at the intersection of agriculture, food, and the environment. I encourage this injection of energy, which is at our foundation. Agriculture has always been innovative; the wine industry is a great example of that. This new generation, of women and men, have a passion for a  larger mission of being connected to our natural resources and producing what humanity needs as our populations expand.  I tell them to explore their interests; You just have to be willing to work hard.
 
******
Helene Dillard, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis
 
Tell us a bit about your professional path to this point: I grew up in California, born and raised in San Francisco. At an early age - I knew I wanted to be a biologist but wasn’t able to pinpoint what I wanted to do within that. So I went to UC Berkeley as an undergrad and majored in biology of natural resources where I gravitated towards agriculture. It was in a Ph.D. program at UC Davis that I found my passion in soil and plant pathology (and a Ph.D. to add to her M.S. degree in soil science). I was fortunate to land a professorial job at Cornell. I had a 50% research and 50% extension assignment and kept very busy with the plant diseases in the North East for 30 years. I was chosen for many leadership positions during my time there and before I knew it, I was recruited for the position of Dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis in January 2014.
 
Who is your role model?:  I owe my success to my parents who identified my childhood interest in science. I received things like chemistry sets at Christmas. Though my parents weren’t traditionally wealthy, they were rich in understanding and they pushed to foster my early proclivities. I remember looking through that first microscope at onion skins and being captivated.
 
Give us a snapshot of where we are in the parity struggle from where you sit: UC Davis is  a premier branch of the California State University System. The average grade for incoming freshman last fall was 4.0. There are four undergraduate  colleges.  The College of Agriculture has an enrollment of 7,000 students -  69% are female … and we are growing. The trend is  quite interesting and I often wonder what was the tipping point.. It’s something that we’re looking to evaluate with more data points. As educators, we’re also interested in maintaining a balance as is important in any ecosystem. We want to make sure that we’re nurturing young men as well as low income, first generation, and minority students. I’m proud to say we’re doing well with that last contingent. 50% of UC Davis students receive financial aid.
 
What advice do you have for young women who are interested in food, wine and agriculture?: Today at UC Davis, the competitive pressure is intense. As Dean, one of the things I do at orientation is encourage kids to enjoy their education and learn about what experiences to prioritize. It’s more important to get to the finish line and be able to contribute to the world than submitting to an A+ obsession. (We tell their parents the same thing!)
 
******
Anita Cook Motard, Strategic Accounts,  Glazer’s Wholesale Co., Women of the Vine Advisory Board, Founder CHEERS
 
Tell us a bit about your professional path to this point: I started with Glazers as a spirits sales rep but quickly moved to wine which I deemed to be more “safe” for a woman and required fewer late nights. After four years in that role, I was promoted  to sales team manager which created mixed emotions for me. Few women had occupied that position and I was nervous about overseeing friends. I took the job but had no one to guide me. I was on my own, working my way up through management.
 
Who is your role model?: I sadly can’t point to an influential woman who impacted my career. There are some men, bosses who directed me professionally, but women in high up roles just didn't exist.
 
Give us a snapshot of where we are in the parity struggle from where you sit: I feel very strongly about the importance of mentorship in early career moments, and have taken a leadership role for women’s causes internally at Glazer’s. I spoke with our Senior Vice President  of Human Resources about starting a women’s group with a mission to champion diversity and inclusion. And from that conversation, CHEERS was founded. CHEERS joins a number of business resource groups within the company and is focused on connecting hardworking women while empowering them to educate, respect, and support each other. We host  panel discussions with major influencers and are looking to formalize the mentoring program by this time next year. It’s our top priority.
 
What advice do you have for young women who are interested in food, wine and agriculture?: The industry was in a different place when I was building my career. I encourage women to connect and support each other through informal check-ins whether it involves lunch dates or bubbles. As a woman in a leadership role, it’s my responsibility to fill the void and encourage women who have the will to work their way through the ranks.
 
 
And so, a toast on this International Women’s Day, March 8, 2016 - ideally with Iron Horse 2011 Brut X (for the X chromosome!), honoring the pioneering spirit  of the women who have made significant inroads for future generations, celebrating progress and cheering the continued momentum to achieve parity. It’s our responsibility, and joy, to be part of the movement.

 
#####
Time Posted: Mar 8, 2016 at 11:13 AM
Joy Sterling
 
February 26, 2016 | Joy Sterling

Leaping Into a New Golden Age

Leap Day is upon us. For members of the Leap Year Baby Society, this extra day is an existential threat to annual birthday celebrations. To all those born on February 29,  we toast and thank you for restoring balance to our seasons.
 
For us, balance is key … in wine as in nature.  In that ongoing  pursuit, Iron Horse Ranch & Vineyards General Manager Laurence Sterling is engaged in restoring Green Valley Creek, which bisects the Estate. As you’ll read in his recap below, there has been a “leap forward” thanks to  a rich pool of experts.  Because of this commitment to balance and conservation, we find ourselves the happy beneficiaries of one of  Mother Nature’s sweetest gifts. Our open windows at night bring in the enchanting chorus of singing frogs living in “harmony” along the creek.
 
@CASeaGrant
 
For a number of years The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Marine Fisheries Service have been engaged in a complex effort to restore Coho Salmon and Steelhead Trout in the Russian River and its tributaries, including  Green Valley Creek that runs through Iron Horse.  Their plan has been to recover, recover, hatch and release thousands of carefully selected fish, many of which were released at our bridge.  But, as Kermit the Frog pointed out so presciently, “it’s not easy being green.”  Obviously the drought, which is far from over, hasn’t helped.  Another problem has been decades of human interference with the riparian habitat, some good and some not so good.
 
Pic from April 15, 2015 @CASeaGrant

 
In 2014 a senior biologist from California Department of Fish and Wildlife came by with some aides.  They had been going through old files and found a picture of a dam on the creek that might be interfering with the fishes’ migration and asked if they could look for it.  They found a dam.  Not the same one as in the picture, but nonetheless a significant impediment.  Our vineyard team was able to get it raised, which has helped, but it is still a problem and has to be removed.
 

 

 
The next problem is what happens when it does rain.  When the flows are too fast the juvenile fish can often be swept out to the river and then eaten by the Sea Bass. So we’ve now met with a number of CDFW and the Gold Ridge Resources Conservation District biologists, engineers, project managers and even a Johns Hopkins trained Senior Fluvial Geo-morphologist (she studies how rivers and creeks change and can be changed) to begin a four to five year plan, starting with removal of the dam and then progressing with the creation of an off-channel fish habitat in our floodplain. The goals are to make it easier for the fish to pass through Iron Horse on their way up and down the creek, and to improve their chances of surviving.  Execution isn’t easy, but if successful we may also be able to harness some of the seasonal flooding, which now is simply wasted water.
 
@CASeaGrant
 
The next project is to see if we can restore an old storage pond once known as Duck Lake (a bit of an exaggeration) which is now overgrown with willows and other vegetation for possible storm water storage to feed various pools in the summer and keep the water temperature cool enough for the health of the fish.
 
Our hope is to go beyond being ‘fish friendly.’  We can’t return the creek to what it was before the Gold Rush.  There are too many roads, bridges, culverts, artificial lakes and reservoirs to think we’ll be able to go back to some golden age. But with proper aforethought, design, and execution; it may be that not too long from now our creek will be vibrant and alive.
 

@CASeaGrant
 
For more information about the University of California SeaGrant monitoring program, check out their webpage here. You’ll find an in depth explanation of their scientific methodology including information on the PIT tag technology which allows us to so carefully monitor the return of adult fish in the Russian River basin. Scroll to the bottom of the page for an archive of of related news pieces on this topic which ran in the Press Democrat in years past. This collection of news stories effectively establishes the chronology of the problem as well as the strategies employed to address it. Please reach out for ways you can help. And, Happy Leap Day!

 

 

 

 

Joy Sterling
 
January 18, 2016 | Joy Sterling

State of the Winery

It has become my tradition to write a "State of the Winery" letter ... timed to the President's State of the Union (January 12) and Governor Brown's State of the State (January 21). The tradition commences with an enumeration of accomplishments:

The great success of Summit Cuvee, commemorating the unprecedented free climb of the Dawn Wall of El Capitan almost a year ago to the day.

Jerry Brown speaking at our Earth Day event. 

The honor of Iron Horse being served for the toast at the State Department luncheon sealing a milestone climate agreement between the US and China in September.

These were some of our finest moments:

        

Never missing an opportunity to celebrate, I am very excited to announce the release of a special, one-time only bubbly called Cuvee 50, timed for the Super Bowl.

But, least you think this wine is just a label, I recommend you come to the Tasting Room and try it. The blend is  69% Chard, 31% Pinot Noir estate grown in Green Valley, vintage 2010, freshly disgorged after four plus years aging and finished with a unique dosage. This is an outstanding bubbly, brut level dry, which we feel is a must-bring to the Super Bowl parties you will be attending from now through February 7.

Insider tip: Like all of our limited production wines, Cuvee 50 first went out to our wine club members. 

I am extremely proud Sonoma County is the wine destination partner for The Super Bowl. Our wines are being featured in the Sonoma Wine Lounge on Tuesday Feb 2 and Saturday Feb 6, promising a perfect opportunity to be at the heart of Super Bowl City sipping Iron Horse. 

So, this is how we are kicking off the New Year ... along with rain, which is most welcome.  After our rain dance we do our happy dance! 

The storms have been fairly manageable. Only a few days of flooding here and there. Those days, can be a little challenging when the bridge is flooded ... like today. There's a plastic box nailed to the fence at the entrance with a map of how to come around the back. Please enjoy the adventure of a small detour. You will have earned a sip of wine when you arrive at the Tasting Bar.

Being flooded is nothing new to my parents who amazingly are celebrating the 40th anniversary of when they purchased Iron Horse. We plan to celebrate July Fourth Weekend because of the obvious tie between 1976 and 1776 ... with the added fun that the original Victorian, my parents' home at the heart of the property, was built in 1876. So, there's a theme and a certain kismet that we celebrated the official opening of the winery on my father's 50th birthday and the 40th anniversary of them finding this special place in the year of my mother's 85th.

2016 also happens to be Winemaker David Munksgard's 20th anniversary at Iron Horse. We are going to have a cellar gathering on the actual anniversary of his first day here, but most exciting and impressive and gratifying to me is listening to David enthuse about the new base wines he is putting together for the 2015 Sparklings, which he says are stunning and our finest to date.

How lucky are we that it never grows old.

 

Time Posted: Jan 18, 2016 at 4:10 PM
Joy Sterling
 
January 4, 2016 | Joy Sterling

Checking the Rain Gauge

We were dreaming of a green Christmas this year and we got it. Thank you Santa! A near average amount of rain, bringing the hills back to life. 

Even more importantly, we have snowpack to the Sierras.

The Sierra Nevada Snowpack currently stands at 105% of normal - the first time above average since 2012.

This is a remarkable milestone in a state where snow was virtually absent even at the highest elevations well into February last winter, and has been consistently far below average for four consecutive years. The early season storms in NorCal have been cold ones, creating a very healthy accumulation of snow across even in the middle elevation.

Think back to April 1 when Jerry Brown at Echo Summit in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, walking across dry grass, announced the first ever mandatory water cutbacks of 25%. The Governors of California have trekked to that spot for 65 years and this was the first time there was no snow.

Snowpack contributes about 30 percent of California's water supply. This season’s first measurement was last Wednesday, December 30. The next will be April 1. 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we recorded about seven inches of rain in December. The hills have greened-up. There’s water running down the creek.

We actually had flooding for two days, closing off the main entrance to the winery. All visitors, tasters, workers, the office, tasting room team, FedEx trucks had to go around the back way – a solid 30 minute detour, two days before Christmas. It was hard not to complain. We need the water. And it is amazing how many intrepid tasters there are.

The week leading up to New Year’s was old and dry with blue skies, puffy grey clouds and sometimes rainbows in our view. 

We started pruning mid-month. We are pruning as if the drought will continue, deciding to err of the side of caution, though it means lowering our sights again in terms of crop sisze.  The vineyard teams were given golf pencils with instructions that only shoots bigger than the pencil could be pruned down to two buds (meaning two shoots per position), anything smaller, would be pruned to one bud.  

We are hoping for nice, steady, but not overwhelming rain in January. More specifically, we’d like for the storms to unfold with ideally a two-day lull between each one to allow the water to seep into the ground and not just rush off down the creek to the Ocean, please.

Wish for a good El Nino!

Time Posted: Jan 4, 2016 at 8:45 AM
Joy Sterling
 
December 21, 2015 | Joy Sterling

Celebrate The Winter Solstice

Happy Winter Solstice! The official start of winter. Meteorologists consider December 1 as the first day of winter, but the season's celestial start is tonight.

Though the entire day is "observed", solstice occurs at a specific time - the same time everywhere on Earth when the North Pole is tilted farthest from the sun.

It is the shortest day of the year ... and the longest night.  

This certainly deserves a toast!

Winter Solstice as a celebration goes back millennia. The most famous at Stonehenge, seemingly built for this specific astrological event as the stones are aligned on a sight-line that points directly to the winter solstice sunset.

Ancient Romans celebrated with the Feast of Saturnalia - a festival that lasted seven days with banquets honoring Saturn, father of the gods. These Saturnalian banquets were held as far back at 217 BCE.

Pre-Christian Scandinavia celebrated the winter solstice with the Feast of Juul and the burning of a log, which became the traditional Yule log.

A perfect way to celebrate tonight is by cozying up with a wood burning fire (or lots of candles) and a glass or two of bubbly.

It is also a perfect occasion to say thank you for your role in making this such a gratifying year for us. Please know that we are toasting you and send our warmest wishes.


Time Posted: Dec 21, 2015 at 9:07 AM
Joy Sterling
 
December 10, 2015 | Joy Sterling

Hauling Out the Mistletoe & Big Data

‘Tis the season for gift guides, discount codes (insider tip: use code HOLLY for $10 shipping valid through 12/15 on three or more bottles) and predictions for the year ahead.
 
 
I know it’s hard to believe, but 2016 is coming on fast. As a winery deeply rooted in our home place, we generally operate outside the trendy category, striving for classic, true to our vineyards, always in style, elegance and balance. But it is exciting to get a glimpse into the data based forecasts for where our cohorts are headed and we are tickled to find ourselves “ahead of the curve."
 
Since we’re in the gift-giving mood, we’ve rounded up some of the stand out themes from our future gazing friends.
 

One such visionary is Kimberly Charles, founder of Charles Communications Associates, who provides perspective on volume (bookmark Kimblery's blog for access to her extremely valuable insights at All the Swirl). In our data focused chat, Kimberly explains that global wine consumption is up 5.3% and she estimates we’ll enjoy 35 billion bottles in 2016. Yes that’s billion with a b … with plenty of room to continue growing in the U.S (more on that growth here). This is where the Millennials come in. They grew up watching their parents drink wine, see it as a daily pleasure, and according to a report from Canadian Investment Bank RBC Capital Markets, Millennials want premium bottles.
 
Trend spotter Andrew Freeman of AF & Co proclaims in his 2016 Trends Report that consumers are enjoying a case of “multiple personality disorder.” In other words, we want the best of all worlds. We participate in wellness movements favoring moderation, then swing to indulgent experiences, sometimes in just a matter of hours.
 
 
Here are some trends to watch for in 2016 in the Food World:
 
  • Vegetables are the hero, especially amongst Millennials. People want less animal protein and support veggies as a “center of the plate component.”
 
  • Hawaiian is the cuisine  du-jour. It’s the latest regional “New American” food in the spotlight.
 
  • The spicier, the better! Even desserts are getting the fiery treatment as data shows that embracing the heat is not only delicious, but healthy.
 
  • Table service at upscale restaurants livens up in a response to a Millennial demand to be entertained and get a peek at what’s happening behind the scenes. Chefs themselves are getting in on the action upping the ante on engaging experiences.
 
  • Brunch becomes a main event. Even health nuts are relishing the opportunity to throw caution to the wind once a week during brunch, indulging in the carb heavy, over the top feast.
 
 
Now for the Beverage World:
 
  • Bubbles mania reigns. But we knew that! Sparkling Wine has captured the imagination of the public beyond celebrating special occasions. The growth of bubbles dwarfs that of still wines (see image). Restaurants are embracing this trend with expanded offerings. As Kimberly Charles declares, “There’s is a virality to hearing the pop of a cork, you want to be part of it.” We certainly agree! According to consumer products analyst Nik Modi at RBC Capital Markets, the rise in Sparkng Wine sales dwarfs still wine sales.
Note: In economists' terms, C0nsumer Value = the ratio of product price to product benefit 

 

  • Stylistically, white wines are showing more restraint - lower alcohols, less oak, brighter acidity - a trend that’s part of our core values at Iron Horse.
 
  • Chardonnay is America’s #1 selling varietal, showing double digit growth.  Even traditional red wine drinkers are exploring more white wines.
 
  • Coffee gets a modern makeover. New techniques and flavors create balanced and “treatful” beverages.
 
  • Instagram worthy embellished cocktails dominate. Think gold dusted flowers, sugar stirrers, designer straws, even perfectly smoked pork belly pieces. Andrew Freeman posed the very apropo question, “If we don’t Instagram it -- did it even happen?” (By the way, we’re on Instagram @IronHorseVyds)
 
  • The Bloody Mary is having a moment. Could there be a better way to recover after a late night sampling of our “Brilliant Bubbles Collection”? We don’t think so! And none are more delicious than Diane’s Bloody Marys featured at Michael Mina’s Tailgate at Levi Stadium (mentioned on recent our Star Chef Spotlight in Michael Mina).
 
As we take stock of a fantastic year at Iron Horse, and give thanks for your great support and friendship, we are already looking forward to a new year of success and innovation in our continued pursuit of toast-worthy excellence.
 
We’d love to hear your delicious predictions for 2016. Chime in on social media and in the comments below!

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

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Time Posted: Dec 10, 2015 at 9:42 AM
Joy Sterling
 
November 12, 2015 | Joy Sterling

30th Anniversary of the Reagan-Gorbachev Summit Meeting

Thirty years ago this month (November 19th), Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met in Geneva, Switzerland for their first Summit Meeting. All of the historians agree that the two superpowers were poles apart until that moment when they clinked glasses with Iron Horse. It was amazing how quickly their relationship evolved. And for all these years, my family has taken complete credit for ending the Cold War.
 

The Reagans hosted the Gorbachevs for dinner at Maison Saussure, a grey stone 18th century chateau on a 20 acre park about three miles from Geneva and just a few yards away from the lake. It was the residence of the Aga Kahn, who vacated it for the President and Mrs. Reagan. The dinner was private. It started around 8 p.m. and was reportedly limited to just 16 people.
 

 
Recorded in the National Security Archive, the toasts which are now de-classified and available online, became the basis for the joint statement released the next day.  Both sides emphasized that the Geneva meeting started something that would lead them to more significant steps in improving bilateral relations and the global situation, "with mutual understanding and a sense of responsibility,” putting into text that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. See Document 24: Geneva Summit Memorandum of Conversation. November 20, 1985, 8:00-10:30 p.m. Dinner Hosted by President and Mrs. Reagan.
 
Reagan’s Secretary of State George Schultz wrote in his memoire, “Nancy Reagan had orchestrated a wonderful dinner that night at Maison de Saussure. Both Reagan and Gorbachev were relaxed. They spoke with warmth in their toasts at the dinner table, and the toasts had real content. We then moved into the library for coffee.”
 
 
“Arrangements for the next day were not at all settled. There would be a final ceremonial meeting at the International Press Center. The agreed statement, I thought, would shape up satisfactorily. But what would the leaders do? I said to the president and Gorbachev , ‘You can't just sit there while a statement is being presented. You are the leaders. You each must say something.’ I sensed reluctance. Each was hesitant, I surmised, to risk being seen on worldwide television while the other might level criticism. Agree to speak for three minutes each, along the lines of the toasts you gave at dinner,’ I urged. They both knew they should speak, and each was looking for a little reassurance from the other.”
 
Jack F. Matlock Jr. wrote in Reagan and Gorbachev, “Including private dinners [in the summit program] was built on the idea that the two leaders must not only respect each other but also like each other to accomplish [peace between the United States and Soviet Union]. It was also a signal to the bureaucracy that it was okay to be friends with the other side. We wanted to create an environment where representatives from the two sides could speak privately if we thought we had a problem rather than going to the press and having a big brouhaha. It helped reduce tensions, ultimately. Being friendly personally does not achieve everything, but it becomes a lot harder to achieve your common goals if you’re not being friendly.”
 
 
Matlock was the White House's senior coordinator of policy toward the Soviet Union and the one who rehearsed with Reagan prior to the Geneva Summit, playing the role of Gorbachev. He later became Ambassador to Moscow.
 
Iron Horse was chosen for this historic event by a Sacramento wine merchant named David Berkley, who knew the Reagans from their days in the Governor’s Mansion. David became the unpaid, unsung wine advisor to the White House, consulting with the Social Secretary, the Chief Usher and the chef to pick wines to match a particular occasion, diplomatic goal and the richness of a sauce.
 
He recommended Iron Horse because of the quality of our wine (of course!), but also because it was perfectly “themed.” The Reagan Administration paid as much attention to the “optics” as they did the issues and we fit in as an American winery, rooted in the town of Sebastopol, near the Russian River.
 
At the time, we were told that the wine selection had to be signed off by every member of Cabinet because it was considered such a high level diplomatic decision. And, for security reasons we were asked to ship the cases in unmarked boxes to Andrews Air Force Base.
 
I have always felt, though this is pure conjecture, that they chose our Blanc de Blancs because Ronald Reagan liked to wear the white hat.
 
The vintage served was 1983 when our first vintage of Sparkling was 1980. We were still so young. And this truly put us on the map.
 
It is noteworthy that the second Summit in Reykjavik, Iceland was declared a setback both by media of the day and historians … perhaps because Iron Horse was not deployed? But Iron Horse was brought back into play as the toasting wine at the State Dinner at the White House in 1987, which lead to the signing of the INF Treaty.
 

 

 
We now produce about 1,000 cases of Russian Cuvee a year commemorating what Time Magazine called one of the ten most significant  events of the 20th century.  To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Geneva Summit, we are releasing for the first time, magnums of our Russian Cuvee and our Blanc de Blancs – only 40 cases are available of each.
 
 
Some people have suggested the way things are going today, we need to get back into the business of diplomacy with Russia. It does seem there are lessons to be learned from the Geneva Summit in terms of reestablishing contact after a period of tense relations between two world powers.
 

Here’s a toast to getting Russia to the table again … with a glass.

 

 

******

Joy Sterling
 
October 27, 2015 | Joy Sterling

An Exploration of Tiny Bubbles: The Science Behind Nature’s Magic

 
 
Bubbles in Sparkling Wine are not just pretty, little nothings.  They work harder than you think.

 

For one thing, they are not empty. The bubbles deliver hundreds of molecules to the top of the glass.  When they explode on the surface, they deliver the aromas & flavors which make top quality Sparkling a truly delicious wine.
 
Creating bubbles is the littlest trick of nature. This begins at Iron Horse Vineyards by hand harvesting the fruit, gently pressing the grapes. We then ferment the juice completely dry, making a gorgeous blend and ultimately bottle it as a low alcohol base wine … adding a precise amount of sugar and yeast.
 
The sugar triggers the secondary fermentation, bumping up the alcohol by about a point. One of the natural by-products of fermentation is the creation of carbon dioxide (Co2), which normally escapes from the barrel or the tank, but for bubbly we trap it in the bottle with a crown cap, forcing the gas to dissolve into the wine creating … ta da … bubbles.
 
More than 600 chemical compounds join the carbon dioxide - each lending its own unique aroma and flavor quality.
 
The magic is in how long we age the wine on the yeast in the bottle. The longer we age it en tirage, the smaller the bubbles and the greater the finesse on the wine.
 
A perfect example is our 2000 Brut LD, aged for 14 years and disgorged just last month.

 
The yeast cells feed on the nutrients in the wine. As they become saturated, they start to die off giving back to the wine a rich, creamy texture through a chemical progress (autolysis), much like stirring the lees of Chardonnay in the barrel.
 
You can see the difference just holding the glass to the light. Big bubbles are called “frog's eyes”. Not a compliment!
 
You can also feel the difference. The longer the wine is aged on the yeast, the more integrated the bubbles, the smoother the texture, the more elegant the “mouth feel.”
 
As the yeast cells break down, they emit amino or fatty acids that coat the bubbles, so that when they launch off the bottom of your glass, they don’t glom together. Instead they stay separate and travel up to the surface in streams of tiny, diffuse, gas-filled spheres.
 
As the bubbles ascend the length of a glass in tiny trails, they drag along the molecules of aroma and flavors which explode out of the surface.
 
When they burst, they release enough energy to create tiny auditory shock waves; the fizzing sound is a chorus of hundreds of individual bubbles bursting every second.
 
With each sip, the bubbles excite special receptors on the tongue contributing to that tingling feeling that makes bubbly so seductive.
 
The bubbles also serve to retain the acidity of the wine. A flat bottle will taste too sweet and out of balance.
 
The collapse of bubbles at the surface is even more exciting under a microscope.

 

French Scientist Gerard Liger-Belair Photo Francois Nascimbeni - AFP - Getty Images

French Scientist Gerard Liger-Belair Photo Francois Nascimbeni - AFP - Getty Images

 
According to Gerard Liger-Belair, a physicist at the University of Reims in Champagne (of course), bubbles collapsing close to each other produce unexpected lovely flower-shaped structures unfortunately completely invisible to the naked eye.
 
“This is a fantastic example of the beauty hidden right under our nose.” (Source: Uncorked: The Science of Champagne, published by Princeton University Press.) 
 
British physicist, oceanographer and Champagne aficionado Helen Czerski, explains that bubble dynamics of Sparkling Wine are the same as in the ocean, but with greater consequence. Bubbly can change our mood, but the bubbles in the ocean affect climate.

 

 
"Bubbles are little packets of gases that rise or fall as if they're on little conveyor belts," she  says. They carry carbon dioxide and oxygen from the atmosphere down into the ocean, and then when they go back up again they pop and sulfur compounds from marine plants are sent upward, forming particles in the air that lead to the formation of clouds."
 
Czerski is studying how to detect and count ocean bubbles of different sizes to help scientists in other disciplines create more accurate models. She said that scientists have found it difficult to judge the effect of bubbles on their data for years and usually have had to add a "fudge factor" to account for them.
 
"For instance, bubbles ring like bells when they are formed or when sound waves go past them, and if you're studying sounds traveling through the ocean -- like sounds from whales or sonar -- bubbles can get in the way of what you're trying to listen for,"
 
And she adds, “A good way of getting people to enjoy my lectures on bubbles is to give them a glass of Champagne.”
 
Her favorite “parlor trick” is to drop a few raisins into the fizz. The raisins sink to the bottom of the glass, before being lifted back to the surface by the bubbles, which then burst, sending the raisins back down again.
 
So, what’s the best way to pour a glass of bubbly and maximize the sensory experience? A study published in the American Chemical Society Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry answers that question. Pouring on an angle preserves twice the carbon dioxide bubbles compared to pouring down the middle of the glass.
 
More scintillating sparkling facts:
 
  • Never underestimate the force of a flying cork. The warmer the bubbly, the more the pressure builds and the faster the cork flies when you pop it open, clocked at up to 30 mph.
  • The magnum is the optimum size for bubbly because the larger bottle retains more CO2 in the wine as it is being poured.
  • The white wisp of mist rising from a just-popped bottle is not carbon dioxide. That's a fog of ethanol and water vapor, triggered by the  sudden drop in gas temperature when the pressure is released. (adiabatic expansion)
  • No need to swirl a glass of Bubbly, in fact it is frowned upon. The bubbles are already releasing the aromas and flavors. Swirling just knocks down the bubbles we work so hard to achieve.
 
Now let's talk about glassware.
 
The old fashioned flat coupe ( like the ones my parents drank from at their wedding) has a very slow bubble engine because the bubbles don't get to rise very far. Flavour is delivered to the air gradually, but escapes from the space above the glass very quickly.

 

 
The tall thin flute has a very powerful bubble engine, delivering lots of flavour very quickly, and spitting lots of fizz upwards.
 
Some sommeliers like to serve champagne in white wine glasses because flutes "stifle the flavour".
 
The Riedel glassmakers have taken it a step further with their new “Champagne Wine Glass.”  President, CEO, & 11th generation glassmaker Maximilian Riedel says “the larger rim diameter enables the aromas of the Champagne to be released” and complexity to develop.
 
I had the honor of conducting an impromptu experiment with George Riedel, Maximilian’s father, several years ago in Healdsburg. We tasted Iron Horse vintage Blanc de Blancs side by side in a flute and a Burgundy glass. In the flute, the Bubbly was bright and vibrant. In the other glass, it seemed older, softer.

Next time, I hope to try it in a glass slipper.

 

 

 

****

Time Posted: Oct 27, 2015 at 7:53 AM